The coronavirus sounded an alarm. Now is the time to innovate in how your company defines returns on investment. Employees are your most important asset. Protecting them allows a business to truly thrive. From an architect’s perspective, we look at this as return on design. Renovating your office for the short-term and the long-term will foster a wellness-focused environment. When your office reopens its doors, will the team be safe from the virus?
Good business survives the down cycle. But great business can do more than survive with good design. Design can transform the way businesses communicate with employees and customers. A space should be designed to build up the spirit of collaboration and sense of safety. Now, many of us worry that walking around the block is risky enough. Safety and health are essential, which extend to the much needed feeling of community. How the workplace is redesigned for the near future will shape the way we work together for years to come.
Let’s start with the short-term. The operation of office space will need to follow CDC guidelines. It will need to be deep cleaned prior to reopening and cleaned regularly thereafter. Coworkers who used to face one another need to face away and be at least six feet apart. More automatic sensors should be installed so that people don’t need to touch surfaces in high-traffic areas such as the light switches and door handles.
Then there’s the conference room, a hot spot for contamination. All the sharing, negotiating, and collaborating can happen, just in a different way. To encourage collaboration in the age of social distancing, this room will need to be reconfigured. The CDC may require no more than 10 people in one room. If the room has operable windows, perhaps more people will be permitted. Any conference room that has too much seating will need to scale back. Partitions could divide one room into different sizes, for example, one room could become four. Consider spacing seating at least six feet apart, allowing people to still feel heard and engaged at the table. Determine how important it is for all team members to be present. Looking into technology, virtual conferencing is picking up speed and some companies are creating virtual reality spaces for people to gather. There needs to be room to accommodate a lot of technology while remaining human-centric.
Now, envision the conference room of the future. Rather than sitting with paper and models, there could be more movement. Picture the cast from Star Trek walking around digital objects. Swiping a document or handling an object in the form of a hologram suspended in space. This is within our reach, and the success of your company depends on it. A conference room designed for the long-term needs to keep all occupants comfortable and healthy. Mechanical and lighting systems could be controlled by AI, which would take in data from different sensors to adjust temperature, humidity, and light levels. A room with windows is ideal for opening up the space to daylight, fresh air and easily coordinating with a blackout function for looking at a hologram. Ultimately, good infrastructure allows for that type of technological bandwidth. Virtual reality isn’t so common in a workplace yet because the ability to work in-person in a conference room has always been the norm. An intelligent environment that is very responsive to our needs is a place where people can feel safe and be productive — true in 2020 and for the distant future.
This pandemic is pushing businesses to look at both tech and design differently. According to the CDC, our spaces should put public health as priority #1. Architecture practices have been doing this all along. Certifications like LEED and Fitwel already provide guidelines for how sustainability and wellness can be incorporated in the workplace. Proper Indoor environmental control guided by ASHRAE also provides recommendations to safeguard public health. As the population densifies, we don’t know how many more pandemics we will face in the next decade. One thing is certain: There is nothing more valuable than health. Listen to that alarm, wake up to the present, and invest in the future.
To help the business community get back to work, we offer our ReWork checklist so businesses can reopen their workplace safely and responsibly for their employees. Click here to download the checklist.
Photo Credit: Masci Group on Unsplash